UNDER-FIRE AGENCY SENDS FARMERS 1P CHEQUES
11:00 - 30 May 2006
Farmers awaiting crucial farm subsidies are receiving cheques for as little as 1p each from the Government's Rural Payments Agency - while another farmer expecting £35,000 received one for more than £2 million. Thousands of farmers face financial crisis because of bureaucratic delays by the RPA, which has been mired in controversy since it began handling the Single Farm Subsidy, with payments months late.
Critics of the scheme branded the tiny payments "ridiculous", saying the cost of processing a penny's worth of payment would cost more than it was worth.
But a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said yesterday that farmers were simply receiving what they were owed.
He said: "There is a legal obligation to pay farmers what they are owed, no matter what the amount," but refused to comment on whether a payment of 1p was an error, or indeed made financial sense.
Ian Johnson, South West spokesman for the National Farmers' Union, said: "This whole scheme has been nothing but a fiasco. When you consider that hundreds of years ago they managed to create a similar log in the Domesday Book, it is amazing that with all the technology they now have they cannot get it right. It strikes me that to make a payment of 1p is going to cost the RPA even more in processing it. The whole thing is ridiculous."
Payments traditionally made in November have been months late and information on which they are based, like field sizes, have often been inaccurate.
In a highly critical report released in January, the Commons Rural Affairs Committee urged ministers to consider financial aid to farmers facing bankruptcy as a result of delays in delivering the new scheme.
MPs were "deeply unimpressed" by the handling of the affair by Defra, and accused ministers of showing "unacceptable complacency" about the impact of the delays on struggling farm businesses. The committee heard evidence that the delays are likely to cost the farming industry at least £25 million in extra interest payments.
Under the previous scheme subsidies were worked out using Ordnance Survey maps, but field sizes are now calculated by satellites and digital mapping equipment. But despite the state-of-the-art equipment many calculations of field sizes have been wrong. Apparently the technology cannot cope with fields on hillsides.
Farmer John Kittow, of Elbury Farm, Broadclyst, near Exeter, said: "We have had so many problems getting our application sorted that nothing would surprise me with the RPA. They have got field sizes wrong time and again. I told them the size of each field and they said they would update the digital maps, but each time nothing changed."
Mr Kittow finally received his payments this month - five months later than usual. He said: "This is not new money, it is the same funding as before, but now we have to go through much more hassle to get it."
No one at the RPA was available to comment.
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